The Sad Art of Gaslighting

Yesterday, was “one of those days”.

All was going fine—until I stumbled upon something that shook my core: I was going through my voluminous Inbox in an attempt to make room for my life and I found an e-mail from my best friend who died a year ago. For some reason–never opened it. I guess it got lost in the shuffle.

Anyway, I read it and was flooded with emotion.

I didn’t sleep.

I tried watching TV but “The Giant Ladder System” was on 269 of my 280 channels so, that was a wash. I thought I’d try reading, so I went looking through my books trying to find something that would either take my mind off things or one that could help me better understand and deal with my grief.

I found just what I was looking for, but it wasn’t a book that dealt with the loss of my best friend; it was more like a book that would help me cope losing myself. It’s entitled, The Gaslight Effect: Don’t Be Afraid To Speak Your Truth by Robin Stern.

“Gaslighting is the systematic attempt by one person to erode another’s reality. This is done by telling them that what they are experiencing isn’t so – and, the gradual giving up on the part of the other person.”

Stern goes on to say that gaslighting generally takes two to tango: one person who needs to be in control to maintain his sense of self; the other, who needs the relationship to maintain his/her sense of self and because of this, he/she acquiesces—constantly.

The victim ends up giving far, far more than he/she gets. This process invariably erodes the soul.

You know you’re in a full blown Gaslight Effect when you find yourself second guessing your own reality; when you’re unsure of what you really think and feel. Why? Because you’ve allowed someone else to define your reality for you. Invariably, this leads to being told what to think and how to think. And then in turn, you’re told who you are. You’re molded into an entity that someone else deems worthy of his or her love, affection; attention.

And because of the constant whittling away at your psyche, you believe you’re a better person as he or she sees you; as he/she needs you to be.

As the kids used to say….”word”.

Having been “gaslit” in the past, I’d like to share my thoughts with you.

Gaslighting I think, is all that I just mention, with refined manipulation added. And this is maniplation that’s defined by greed and selfishness. It creates cognitive dissonance and it’s this “in between state of cognizance” that women–people, find themselves most vulnerable.

It’s being forced to color inside the lines that others have drawn for us. If we don’t, we’ll be alone and that to some people, is a fate worse than death. Knowing that isolation and lonliness are the dreaded alternatives, we allow gaslighting. It’s not compromise. Hardly–it’s utter relinquishing of the self.

The authentic self.

Then, you find yourself in a horrifically bad relationship but you stay because of that INSIDIOUS goddamn mindset that a bad relationship beats no relationship.

Make no mistake: this IS emotional abuse in every sense and women are almost always the victims. Don’t misunderstand the premise: women can be the culprits too. But women bear the brunt of more negative genetic coding–or so it seems. We’ve been subjugated by primordial design to believe relationships, love….and men, define us.

But gaslighting isn’t limited to love relationships. We also fall victim to it on the job; co-workers and bosses are often perpetrators and it also happens within the family dynamic.

Gaslighting is very real. As I stated, I’ve lived it. I just didn’t know it had a name. Or a book that defined it. Ordinarily, I try my best to avoid partaking from the sump pump of pop psychology. In other words, if Dr. Phil mentions it, I run in the opposite direction. But this book makes sense.

And here’s my two cents.

Integrity (something sorely lacking in the world today) applies to behavior that consistently matches principles. You can’t be a person of integrity if selfishness and self centered behavior are what fuels every motivation. Gaslighters almost always lack integrity; as distorted as this sounds, they thrive on their own selfishness. They are always self-centered. They are consummate liars. Invariably, they will never fail to fail you.

One must then ask, how can a gaslighter expect to be loved if he or she doesn’t know how to love? How can he or she venture into a real, equitable partnership without knowing how to play fair?

The answer? Manipulation passed off as love or affection…or concern

No one will love ever love you like I love you
You’re nothing without me
I ONLY want to take care of you
I only want what’s best for you and only I know what that is
You have changed and grown so much since knowing me. I make you think and
you are better because of it

Furthermore, what these people demand of themselves will rarely work with others. Once again, we touch on “coloring inside the lines” we draw for others. And when someone refuses, that’s how gaslighting starts. I think foisting this on someone else, is the quintessence of neurotic narcissism.

What this book reveals isn’t earth shattering. If you’ve lived it, then you know exactly what gaslighting is all about. For me, it merely gave a name to what I’d experienced.

In remedying the gaslight malady, it goes on to state the obvious:

Women (especially) must be more assertive. We must be fearless about defining who we are, what we are and what we really think. We must empower ourselves to move forward and find real contentment in a relationship as opposed to sanctuary, no matter how fleeting.

I’ll take it one step further:

Some of us, by virtue of childhood experience, seek emotional replicas of our fathers and mothers. If we had a controlling parent, very often we’ll seek controlling partners. We’re most fortunate if we can break that cycle. And just because we find ourselves in abject co-dependence with someone cruel and controlling, well…that doesn’t mean we have to stay. Gather your courage and leave Simon Legree. As the James Gang so aptly sang, walk away.

But remember this: walking away is sometimes much easier than garnering the strength required to take that first step.

And keep this in mind as well: you’ll never gather courage by allowing fear to keep you in a one-sided relationship that’s devoid of romance, passion and real emotion. To do so is a sign of weakness. It’s giving your power away. We should be empowering ourselves. When we relinquish control, we hand over the reigns of our lives, willingly.

Frequently.

Tragically.

But for some, this is the perfect scenario. We’re absolved of all blame if we have no control of a situation. If we believe we’re not responsible, we can’t be held accountable. Especially when it comes to our own actions. Victimhood is extraordinarily convenienct. It all boils down to neglect. We’re being neglected and we’re neglecting ourselves. Well then– here’s your wake up call: neglect kills as often as a bullet to the head.

It kills relationships just as efficiently. And if you sit by and allow it to happen, you’re just as guilty.

In closing, I’ll just say this: Caruso loved the sound of his own voice…some people love the sound of their own opinions being expressed.

This should come as no surprise.

The typical gaslighter defies Copernican theory. They think THEY are, in fact, the center of the universe. In reality, this blustery bravado masks rampant insecurity. Inside, they’re just scared little boys and girls , very much afraid to be hurt, yet they think they’re too smart, too superior to actually feel the pain they’ve so deeply buried.

Sadly, this fear-based arrogance means they themselves have been “gaslit”…made victims by their own actions.

Laurel Kendrick blogs at the eponymous Laurie Kendrick: Life’s a journey….never fly coach.

The Sad Art of Gaslighting appears here by permission.

While the vast majority of available writing on gaslighting concerns itself with “romantic” relationships between individuals or parent-child dynamics, the term has shown up from time to time here and on other autism-related blogs that discuss autistics’ relationship with society. This suggests that there is also what might be called “institutionalized gaslighting” at work in the world which affects not only the lives of individual autistics, but also society’s perception of autism itself. The Sad Art of Gaslighting is presented here as an accessible introduction to the general concept. While at this date a site search of Shift Journal for the words gaslight returns just three posts, as time goes on this number is likely to increase.   — ed.

related: Wikipedia entry for Gaslighting

related: Robin Stern at Psychology Today: Identify “The Gaslight Effect” and take back your reality

related: IMDb entries for Gaslight, the movie, from 1940 and 1944


on 01/6/12 in featured, Society | 3 Comments | Read More



Comments (3)

 

  1. I read your piece with both sympathy and trepidation. Even in the most benevolent and supportive relationships, the self that another person wants to see is the self they tend to speak to. This applies to parents and their children, teachers and their students and friends with good intentions as well as to nemeses! What you are describing is the process that gradually freezes over the soul in the form in which the other sees it. But I don’t think all victims of gaslighting have done this to themselves, as you suggest. And more to my point, I don’t think they can succeed on their own in freeing themselves from those upon whom they depend for their well-being, support and even sometimes their very lives. In great part, it’s probably because there really IS institutionalized gaslighting in many forms at the back of individual cases. This is worth exploring!

  2. Patricia,

    I appreciate your insights.

    Perhaps I’m approaching this differently. For me (and I can only speak for me), the power to exit a relationship that focused on gaslighting was all mine. Gaslighters thrive on the weak and codependent. That’s fuel for them.

    In the beginning, I didn’t have the emotional spine or self confidence to battle my gaslighters…and that includes a horrible relationship with my mother. Which is why I felol victim in the first place. But one day I quite literally “woke up”, for lack of a better description and started seeing the reality around me. For me this included “de-monsterfying” those that felt the need to alter my reality to accomodate their own greedy neediness. I chose to see them for who and what the y were as mere people; flawed, sad and pathetic specimens of humanity who somewhere along the line, had become victims themselves. And things only got better once I refused to be a victim any longer.

    I get very angry at myself when I think about the role I played in my own gaslighting. Not that I asked for it…not that I did anything to warrant it. I regret that at the time, I didn’t have the self respect to remove myself from what I inherently knew was destructive situation. I am working on forgiving myself and my gaslighters for this–and this is key–and I will in time, but right now, I still deal with the anger aimed outward; aimed inward. But in some ways, I’m glad it’s there. Anger is like this double edged sword…like chemo, of you will. Chemo kills the cancer cells and unfortunately, the good cells, too. Anger keeps the gaslighters away…and it also repels the good honest people.

    I don’t deny that there is institionalized gaslighting–from home to the office..school…on the team. But I will say that a person who finds him or herself in a sitation such as this can put an end to the madness, simply by garnering every ounce of self worth they can muster. From there, they have to find the strength to leave or standup to gaslighter. They must do whatever they can to say no to the abuse and welcome in trust, peace of mind and joy. And I this has to be done internally first. This MUST come from within before another relationship begins, be it personal or professional. If not, you’re foolishing asking for a repeat of your own history. Santyana said it best, ‘those who forget the past, are condemned to repeat it”. This is very true of gaslighting victims to who don’t learn from their experience.

    I’m here to say that there is life after trauma. You just have to want it and yes, it really is that simple. If anyone must controls your heart and soul, it ought to be YOU.

    Thanks for your input,
    LK

  3. anonymous says:

    when u are upset with someone elses behaviour toward u and they ignore and refuse to aknowledge ur upset, upsetting u further, and calling u names and denying they upset you, this is gaslighting, when u care and they dont! when ur upset becuase of their behaviour that didnt show u an ounce of care in the first place and u care enough to help them understand they upset you and try at the relationship, with friends, partners and parents….it hurts! walk away! these people r scum!

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